Overcoming a Failing System

By Jessica Koke

Last week I went for a run in a hotel gym. After I finished my run, I saw a scale and walked right past it. I sighed thinking about how far I’ve come in my eating disorder recovery. 

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Not too long ago, the scale owned me. Every day, three times a day, or more, I measured my self-worth by the number on a scale.  I lived like this for a very long time, struggling to recover because, despite losing my period, being diagnosed with osteopenia, and going through cycles of food restriction and bingeing, I didn’t think I was thin enough to have a problem. To have an eating disorder. 

Our system and society are failing people with eating disorders. 

My BMI was barely in the “normal weight” category when I was referred to a dietitian by my family physician. I had been referred to see if my diet could be the reason why I was experiencing amenorrhea. I was triaged very quickly. However,  at my appointment, I was quickly dismissed because of my BMI. The reason I was triaged so quickly was because the dietitian misread the referral – she thought my BMI was well below the cut off for normal. Because my BMI was within the range of normal, she sent me on my way with a copy of Canada’s Food Guide. She didn’t ask about my eating behaviours. No further referrals. No follow up appointments. 

My family physician also referred me to an OB-GYN as part of my amenorrhea work up. The OB-GYN told me bluntly that I just needed to eat more. A step in the right direction, but with no referral to counselling, and no follow-up.

I have similar stories with many other professionals over the years. I remember when I first told all of this to a counsellor. She looked at me with tears in her eyes, and told me that I was resilient and that the system failed me. 

We live in a society that values thinness. I’ve been scared to outwardly admit that I am recovered from an eating disorder. Not just because of the stigma, but because I know that society has an image of what the average person with an eating disorder looks like – and I don’t know if my body size would meet that image. I know I’m not the only person who feels this way, and the myth that everyone with an eating disorder looks thin is keeping people with eating disorders from getting the help they need.

The myth that everyone with an eating disorder looks thin is keeping people with eating disorders from getting the help they need.

I say all this, not only because of my encounter with that gym scale, but because in the past the holidays were so hard for me, and every year I’m reminded how far I’ve come. 

Every Christmas, I was filled with dread – the exact opposite of what you should feel during your favourite holiday. Dread came from the focus on my weight – comments that I looked strong one year (which meant weight gain to me), that I was too thin the next, and everywhere in between. I was scared to eat in front of people, afraid they would be judging, so I’d often find myself downstairs in my parent’s basement, bingeing on Christmas cookies to replace the food that I denied myself all day. Sometimes I purged. Sometimes I didn’t. But it didn’t matter either way, I felt awful. I lived like this for a long time. It wasn’t just Christmas that I was like this, but Christmas was particularly hard for me. 

Life is different now. I have triggers, but I have the skills and support to challenge them instead of sending me down a path I never want to go down again. I can’t tell you how my life has changed, to not know how much I weigh, to not know how many calories I’ve eaten, to eat things that make me happy – which is sometimes a salad, and other times a donut. But I’m better in spite of our system, not because of it. 

For anyone else who has struggled or is struggling with an eating disorder, I hope that my story gives you some hope, because there is hope. By sharing our stories, we are advocating for a system that better meets the needs of individuals with eating disorders. 

I would like to challenge anyone who is reading this to address your weight bias head on. People are more than their weight. I would also like to challenge you to please, please stop commenting on people’s weight. Words are so powerful. Congratulate someone on their new house, job, pet, whatever it is. Compliment someone on their work ethic, intelligence, or generosity. There are so many ways to pay someone a compliment, and I encourage you to get creative and try out something other than weight loss.

NEDA’s 24/7 Hotline: 1-800-931-2237

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